Despite lingering winter weather conditions and temperatures, it’s still possible and important to get started early on planting your spring vegetables.
When is the right time to plant, and which vegetables should be planted? What should be done to prepare the soil? Here are some helpful early gardening tips that will answer those questions and more.
Preparing the Soil
The best soil prep is done in the fall by mixing compost (Oakdell Organic Compost) into the soil. The basic green thumb rule is two inches of organic matter worked into six inches of soil. With the right amount of organic matter in the soil, it’s easier for a plant to get air, water and nutrients to the roots.
More organic matter mixed into less soil can be counterproductive and limit plant growth. If you have heavy, wet clay, lacking air space, your plants won’t do well.
Even if you are starting in the spring, it’s still a good idea to till the soil and mix in organic matter and fertilizer to provide the optimum seed bed. Make sure it’s truly composted organic material to create a healthy and ready to grow root zone. Green matter that has not yet been composted (grass clippings, bark, etc.) is better collected in the summer and blended into the soil in the fall. Use a compost bin to collect organic materials throughout the year.
What to Plant and When
When it comes to early spring planting, vegetables can be divided into two groups:
Cole Crops & Bulbs
The first group, cole crops and bulbs, are cool season vegetables that can be started directly in your garden or indoors.
This first group of vegetables can be planted around Valentine’s Day, once the snow has melted (don’t plant in the snow). You can plant these seeds outside directly into your garden: kohlrabi, kale, collards, Chinese kale, peas, onions, radishes, spinach, lettuce and turnips.
Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts are best started indoors as early as 4–6 weeks before planting them outside. Peppers usually start 8–10 weeks before they are ready to go outside. A greenhouse or hot box are ideal indoor settings so these plants can begin to grow while its still too chilly for them to be out on their own.
Cool Season Root Vegetables
The second group of cool season vegetables are your root veggies, they should be planted in your garden from seed 2–3 weeks after you plant your cole crops. This is usually one or two weeks into March, or when the minimum daytime temperatures are between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
This list includes beets, carrots, potatoes, swiss chard, parsnips and turnips.
These crops must be planted early enough to reach maturity for harvest before the temperatures get too warm for them to thrive.
Frost and Snow Concerns
These two vegetable groups perform and produce better in cool to warm weather. They become stressed in the hot days and nights of summer. The same can be planted again in the late summer/early fall when they can benefit from light frosts of early fall.
With that said, snow and frost are still a concern. Most garden plants don’t tolerate colder temperatures. Sometimes it’s necessary to cover your plants early in the season with Walls O' Water, HotKaps, insulated blankets or similar products to protect them from the cold.
The last frost along the Wasatch Front is usually somewhere close to Mother’s Day, but this will vary depending on the year and where you are located.
Managers at your local IFA Country Store recommend growing the plants you like to eat while also planting at least one new veggie or fruit each year to keep things fun and interesting.
Most of the cool-season vegetables mentioned in this article also do well when grown in the fall, so don't forget to get a second crop in when temps start to cool down in September or October.
To maintain healthy plants, make sure they have the right blend of nutrients and micronutrients for healthy growth. Applying IFA’s Grand Champion All-Purpose Fertilizer or IFA's 16-16-8 Premium Garden Blend Fertilizer once or twice every six weeks is an easy way to make sure your plants have the energy they need.
For more information, download this Utah State University Extension “Vegetable Planting Guide,” which offers more details about vegetables to plant and when to plant them.
Information for this article was provided by Nick Loveland, Certified Arborist, Assistant Manager, Ogden IFA Country Store; Daniel Thatcher, Branch Manager, Price IFA Country Store; Jill Fillingim, Price IFA Country Store; and Kent Mickelsen, Utah Certified Nurseryman, IFA Country Store.